The joy of wandering with Amity Rockwell

In her new video, Amity Rockwell shows us the joy of riding local and getting lost

Amity Rockwell is a member of Trek’s all-surface Driftless program, and an Unbound Gravel winner. In the video below, Amity wanders her hometown trails, and takes us to one of her favorite local races in Duncans Mills, Calif. She also writes on the emotional rollercoaster of gravel racing, and how the community around her favorite local races have helped sustain her passion.

The sky hangs so heavy with fog it creates a hush over the road, the chatter of friends nearby barely reaching my ears. I’m exhausted. I want to crawl back into bed, maybe sit by the water and make a cup of coffee last an hour. But here I am, zip-tying a number to my bars for the fourth time in as many weeks, putting 3 more psi in each tire, memorizing which snacks are in which pockets so that when I have no more brain left, only legs, I can still feed the machine. Coastal redwoods loom just up the hill, sending mixed messages of shelter and suffering.

The race unfolds around me;  I am drinking in salt air and pine smells, endorphins turning physical pain into elation. Every sense is heightened. I claw my way past strangers, made familiar by shared awe and suffering. We are at total mercy of the landscape. My main rival here, Mo, lives two blocks from me in San Francisco. She is up the road and I have no clue how far; I’m chasing with all my might knowing it probably isn’t enough and I’ve never felt more at peace than here, now.

This could be Fish Rock, this could be the first Grasshopper Series race, or the second or the fifth. They all melt together in a sweaty, mesmerizing blur. 

Two weeks later and it’s hot and early; the sun is bouncing off the parking lot of Laguna Seca and my hands drip sweat into my grips. My eyes dart around and at least three cameras are pointed in my direction.

The faces squinting behind them are my friends, and I do something with my face that I hope looks like a smile. I’m on the verge of throwing up. I feel like I’ve woken up in someone else’s reality. It doesn’t add up to me how quickly I’ve been put in the shoes of the women I’ve long looked up to, and this day especially, it feels like some big dumb mistake. Like if I raised my hand and said, ‘Hey, you have the wrong person,’ I’d be taken by each arm and dragged out of the starting chute.

Amity appreciating her handiwork.

The race starts but my legs never connect to my brain. I’m yelling at them to GO, but they are putting out approximately 70 percent effort. My heart is lodged in my lungs somewhere and I want to disobey the big red arrows, make a left where the course goes right, ride off into the purple lupine, leave it all behind as a rude memory in a brand new life.

There’s always a moment, usually the Monday after a race, when I wake up in my tiny apartment and struggle to sift through everything I’ve been through. It’s easy, with the noise of cars outside and emails to check, to convince myself none of it really happened. My friends text me about dinner plans and my mom wants to make sure I remember my sister’s birthday. And somehow I’m supposed to go into a normal week pretending to be a normal person, like I didn’t just completely rip my body and mind apart in front of a crowd and put on a brave face when it wasn’t as perfect as I hoped? As if I didn’t just witness my entire ego collapse into the vastness of this earth? 

I can’t write about community, or even my own career, without mentioning Mig. The high school Spanish teacher, mountain bike coach, route guru, stoke-sharer Mig. His wife and his son check you in at the reg table in the morning. His best friends volunteer as ride marshalls. He pedals the whole course the day before to flag it. And then, more often than not, he lines up at the race himself.

Leading the Driftless pack in Arizona.

You may not know Mig, but I think many of our communities are lucky to have their own incarnation. The full-time-job, does-it-for-the-love, could-care-less-about-your-result race organizer. It’s this guy, and the literal and figurative lengths that he goes to, that initially sparked my interest in gravel. And it’s him and those special weekends that keep the flame alive. 

I hope that the “spirit of gravel” is that of generosity, of sharing these places we are so privileged to know so intimately, of reaching out and bringing more people into this world that is so generous to us. I can log in and preach these things to anonymous users behind screens, or I can show up, both humble and fully aware of my presence, to these gathering spaces that others so benevolently provide for us. As professional cycling continues to blur the lines between athlete and influencer, it is imperative that our physical selves be ever more present and available, in real life, to reach out and pull others into these real, lived, shared experiences.

Fast times at Sea Otter.

The wild spaces where I train and race and the narrow streets of San Francisco where I live are woven together inside me much as the little green spaces in the city are connected via bicycle. It’s a map that would never make sense on paper but it is the framework for the life I’ve built. I can’t tell if the eucalyptus I smell when I think of home is from the trees in Sutro Forest, atop the city, or those on the way out to the lighthouse, 50 miles from the closest store.

The air I breathe on every ride is the same air that crept in through a cracked backseat window when I was 10, sandwiched between sisters as we drove the twisted highway to Point Reyes. Pine sap in sun. Grasses bleaching from green to gold. I don’t remember when I started to dream about riding through it all, but it was long before I ever called myself a cyclist. Now, on that same road, I am 10, I am immortal, I am a silly little speck in the overwhelming magnificence of it all.